Danny Nightingale: Guest Post from Simon McKay

Pat Johnson, a 38 Degrees member, has set up a petition on the new Campaigns by You area of the 38 Degrees website. The petition calls for the release of Sergeant Danny Nightingale who was jailed to 18 months’ detention for possessing a pistol given to him as a gift by soldiers he had trained in the Iraqi army.

Danny Nightingale’s solicitor is Simon McKay. In this guest blog, he discusses ‘the public interest’ and the importance of the Campaigns by You petition to Danny Nightingale’s appeal against his sentence.  

The newspapers have been filled with thousands of words about Sergeant Nightingale’s plight since he was convicted and sentenced to 18 months’ detention on 6th November. Earlier this week, The Times published a leader headed “Soldier’s Misfortune”. It argued that politicians are right to keep their distance from judges’ decisions but that this principle was “undermined when courts cannot be trusted to behave with sense”.

After the reaction to the detention of my client SAS Sergeant Danny Nightingale, I have been thinking about what we mean by ‘the public interest.’ It is important that lawyers and judges remember that they must serve and have the confidence of the people. If the people do not trust that criminal prosecutions are carried out with their security and happiness in mind, the criminal justice system risks becoming ineffective.

Danny Nightingale pleaded guilty because he believed that if he didn’t, he would face the risk of a five year jail term. It was unthinkable he would make his family suffer based on an outcome beyond his control.

The appeal against his sentence is next Thursday. Central to the case will be the issue of the public interest and the tens of thousands of signatures in his support on the Campaigns by You petition hosted by 38 Degrees. Every name on the petition counts as it strengthens the argument that the decision to imprison Sergeant Nightingale is not in the public interest.

If Sergeant Nightingale’s conviction is quashed on Thursday, the judges will need to decide whether there should be a re-trial and again, they will have to consider the public interest when they make that decision. The position then is as it was put in The Times: “if the proper channels cannot put this right, then the proper channels have a problem”.

Right now the consensus is that justice has miscarried. Our courts are not faultless but they have a great tradition of recognising when they have made a mistake. I hope the balance is restored next week. Your support will, I am sure, be recognised as a reflection of the majority of the people that the Court serves.

You can sign the petition here.

What do you think of Simon’s blog and the public interest? Please share your comments and thoughts below.